Around midmorning, we viewed the column of smoke. Gloom covered the sky like something belched from the gates of Hell. It was the second day after we left the home of Lady Soo-jau “What do you think is on fire, Angriz?”
“I don’t know Carter. The town of Rivorei is ahead of us and could be what is burning.”
“Oh, I hope nae! We should hurry an’ see if we can aid them.”
“And how would you propose we hurry, Keeper Dearbhaile?” said Angriz. “We’re on foot, remember?”
She rolled her eyes, reached into her pack and pulled out three wooden toy horses. She set them on the ground and waved her hands over them, intoning…something, “Uoy fo deen evah ew. Efil ot emoc.”
The toys grew and widened. Hair covered flesh replaced wood. Coppery hooves became keratinous, the thread mane and tail became real hair and little bead eyes turned into real ones. Soon, breathing flesh and blood animals stood pawing the ground where only toys had been.
The closest horse to me was huge, every bit my height with a straight facial profile, broad forehead and wide muzzle. The animal was well-muscled and strong, with an arched neck, high withers and a sloped shoulder. The coloring was bay, with white markings. Despite knowing next to nothing about horses, I knew what this kind was due to them being in beer commercials.
Standing next to the Clydesdale was a smaller horse, silver in coloration, with a refined, wedge-shaped head, a broad forehead, large eyes, large nostrils, and small muzzle. This one possessed a concave profile, an arched neck, and long, lean muscles. The horse’s mane and tail were pure ivory.
The last one was black with a medium length head, with a straight or profile. Its neck was long and broad, running to a massive chest, a short back and broad, strong hindquarters.
All three, smelling of sunlight and hay, were saddled and seemed eager to run. Though gentle-looking, all three scared the hell out of me. ‘Keeper Dearbhaile is nuts if she thinks I’m climbing on of these things.’ I looked from the horses, to Dearbhaile, to Angriz and back again.
Dearbhaile must have sensed my unease. She came over and taking my hand, laid it along the side of the Clydesdale. She talked in a soft voice and ran my hand along its back. The big animal pushed against my hand. The horse lowered its head and she guided my hand along the steed’s side and neck in a back and forth motion. The mount snorted and pushed harder on my hand. I broke into a smile, which grew wider with each passing moment. I was so entranced by what was happening with the stallion, I almost didn’t notice when Dearbhaile released my hand and rested hers on my hip.
“Scratch his ear,” she whispered. I did as she suggested and was rewarded with almost being knocked off my feet by the horse’s enthusiastic reaction. After a couple of minutes scratching the big horse, Dearbhaile lead me to the others, allowing us to get used to each other. As I scratched the silver’s ear, hands lifted me by my waist and setting me on her saddle. I grabbed the saddle in a white knuckle grip and spun in place to scowl at Angriz as he swung up into the saddle of the Clydesdale. Keeper Dearbhaile was already atop the black.
“W-what the hell, Ang-griz!” I stuttered.
“Keeper Dearbhaile wanted us to hurry, Carter. We’ve spared ten minutes for you to get to know the horses, now we ride.”
“I don’t know how!”
“You’ll be fine. Hold the reins and grip his sides with your thighs. He’ll stick with the others.”
I must say, the half dragon was pretty cavalier with my safety. I felt dizzy and twitchy, like my insides were trembling. The sun beat down. My chest was tight and my heart racing. ‘I’m going to fall off this animal and it’s gonna step on my head, and I’m gonna die!’ Sweat poured down my face and I’m sure my eyes were bugging out. I tried not to look at the ground which was too far below me.
Keeper Dearbhaile took pity on me: she wheeled her horse around and took the reins from me. “Hold on tae th’ pommel,” she said. “I’ll lead yer horse for ye.”